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In a time when momentary or unpremeditated effects are con 
sidered paramount artistic virtues witness the French 
impressionists^ action painting and the rage for pottery 
inspired by Japanese folk wares the study and appreciation 
of Greek Vases has become restricted to a few die hard 
classical scholars and connoisseurs 

This state of affairs is rather a pity„ because these sophls 
ticated wares - notice they are generally called wses, not 
pots - can teach us lessons of an orderly existence which wa 
might well try to emulate 

The same attitudes which produced the great monuments of 
Greek architecture;; drama p and poetry are epitomized in Greek 
Vases clarity of outline, economy of means,, and an under- 
lying unity of form, function, and decoration 

A Greek Vase may be likened to a Bach suite Just as the 
musical forms of Bach had their origins in folk songs and 
dances, but were refined and reformed into an artistically 
coherent whole by an expressive creative logic* so did the 
elegant types of Greek Vases in form and technique originate 
In earlier folk wares of the Mycenaean and Geometric periods 

A look at Japanese wares shows a use of clay which reveals 
I v ts dynamic plastic properties In a moist statfc While quite 
refined in their own terms^ the throwing marks on the sur- 
faces of these pots would not have satisfied the late Archaic 
and classical Greek potters who sought to embody timeless,, static 
canons of form in their products 

Hence f/ they realized that tb? best way to achieve th®ee effects 
of repose was to work the clay not in a plastic,, but In a 
stiff p semi- hardened state when the emotion charged spirals 
of throwing marks could be tooled $way leaving the closest 
approach to ideal form possible In a tangible material 

Yet, these G re ek Vases are not lifeless Small individual 
variations of form and decoration give each potter* s work 
resilience and personality^ expressing the Greek cultural 
ideal of individual liberty controlled by a rational, concise 
concept of order 

We must then try to judge the merit of Greek Vases in terms of 
their own cultural environment,, not looking for the "happy 
accident" of a dribbled glaze or random Impurity so sought 
after by Japanese potters., There are no "happy accidents" in 
Greek v ase s< Imperfect products were destroyed and only 
those which demonstrated a high level of artistic mastery and 
technical control were preserved., Greek standards were prob 
ably higher than ours in respect to Greek Vasesj many of the 
examples now preserved In museums were assembled from the 
broken fragments found In discard dumps 


Although modern science and archaeology have shed some light 
on how the Greeks made their wares, we are still not certain 
of some point s= These technical notes are therefore only 

F orming: 

Wheel thrown (sometimes in sections) of fairly fine clay 
body; then "lathe" trimmed by hand for crisp profile 


True vitreous glazes not used,, (vitreous glazes known in 
Egypt and Near East but apparently did not appeal to the 
Greek sense of clarity and order) So-called "glaze" on 
Greek pots is actually super fine clay particles and not 
silica (glass) As used by the Romans, called "terra sigellata" 

Colors probably made as follows: 

Black - iron added if not naturally present in clay 
(sometimes also manganese ore) 

Red — - iron and ochre added 

Purple- manganese ore added 

White - super fine pipe -clay (Kaolin) used 

Red lines on black grounds usually scratched through the clay 
body Instead of being painted on. Terra Sigellata often rub- 
bed or burnished for added polisho 

Alkali used as sintering (fusing) agent 


Fired at low temperatures to produce porous^ friable ware, 
Temperatures near those of modern low bisque firingc Such 
temperatures are best for production of best color of body and 

Temperature ranges: 

800-950 centigrade? 1450-1750 fahrenheit; cone 08-014 

Wares fired in one three cycle firingc 

Cycles: 1» Oxidized to mature body 

2o Reduced to mature black decoration 

3o Reoxidized to mature red decoration, if any 

Oxidized firing yields carbon dioxide and produces ferric 
oxide (buff red) from Iron*, Reduced firing yields carbon 
monoxide to produce ferrous oxide (shiny black) from iron. 
Oxidized firing accomplished by allowing air in kiln >; reduced 
by excluding Ito 


/ / 

iHPHORA— for holding oil,, wine, PELIKE— variant form 

and water of amphora 


STAMN0S~»for wine 


KRATER—- for mixing wine and water 

Column Krater Caly^ Krater 

Bell Kraier 


HIDRIA— for water 

/ / 

IEKITHOS— for oil and unguents. Often ALABASTRON— for 

used as offering for dead perfume 


OINOCHOE— for ladling and pouring wine* Often used 
for tomb offerings 

ARYBfcLLOS—for oil„ Commonly 
used by athletes 


PlXIS—for cosmetics and 
toilet articles 

/ / 

LESANIS— probably for food &/or SKYPROS (Kotyle)— cup 
small articles for drinking 


KYUX— for drinking wine mixed with water 

XANTH&ROS— for drinking 

EIMfe: ?-*•■ a Pla&fl 


Sometimes in small bands who settled peaceably ^ sometimes in 
great waves that disrupted all previous settlement , the many 
tribes of Hellenes expanded southwards through what we now call 
Greece. Their migrations may have begun about 1700 B«C, The 
Minoan civilization of Crete was then at its height* secure in 
its sea power, freely creative in all branches of art. When 
the kings of Mycenae on the Greek mainland came to dominate a 
loose confederacy of lesser chieftains, they derived the equip 
ment of culture from Crete, At length, about 1400 B,C, they 
set sail for Crete and overthrew the Minoan Kingdom « A com- 
mon Mycenaean (or so-called f Helladic») culture now spread 
throughout the Eastern Mediterranean » 

Hellenic peoples still pressed down into Greece from the north* 
or sought fresh land in the Aegean Islands and the foreshores 
of Asia Minor • The Trojan War, sung by Homer , was an episode 
of this expansion; perhaps about 1200-1150 B>C, Agamemnon of 
Mycenae led a federation of bronze-clad chieftains to crush a 
centre of Asiatic resistance But Agamemnon's successors at 
Mycenae In turn succumbed to a final wave of northern invaders 
called the Dorians, formidable warriors with superior swords 
of iron, The Dorians slowly blotted out the old Minoan^Myeenean- 
Helladic civilization of the Aegean When a new Iron-Age cul- 
ture started^ from srery humble beginnings* it was definitely 

About this time, say 1100-900 BoCo„ three branches of the 
Hellenic race won homes on the Asia Minor coasts to the north 
the Aeoliansp to the south the Dorians j in the middle the more 
active Ioniansp whose chief city was Miletus. These settlers 
intermarried with their Asiatic neighbours, and mixed blood 
may have aided the precocious intellectual development of 
'Eastern Greece*^ Here the Greek voice first spoke to the 
world through the mouths of Homer^ the lyric poets of Lesbos,, 
and the natural philosophers of Ionia, And the Ionian3 con- 
tributed much to ^reek art* They seem to have inherited some 
thing of the Minoan delight in fleeting appearance, In surface 
pattern, in vivacious movement j and from the art of their 
Asiatic neighbours they derived a feeling for sol**; and rounded 
plastic formso A contrasting preference for hard, close-knit,, 
intellectually-conceived forms developed in the Peloponnese 
and other lands where the people were mainly Dorian ° It was 
eventually left to the Athenians, themselves Ionian by race, 
to reconcile and fuse the Dorian and Ionian strains in the 
mature art of the fifth century » 

Greece again expanded in the two centuries 750-550 Bo Co 
Colonies were sent out by individual city states of Eastern 
and Mainland Greece, seeking land to cultivate as well as 
trade. In the Eastern Mediterranean the chain extended all 
round the coasts of Thrace and the Black Sea y and along south- 
em Asia Minor as far as Poseideion (All Mina) near Syrian 
Antiocho Two settlements lodged in Egypt, Cyrene and two other 
colonies in Libya c To the west;, the chain embraced the heel 
and toe of Italy as far as Cyme* neap Gym® „ near Naples,, and 
the whole coast of Sicily except the western corner The 


East-Greek cities sent even more colonies to the west than 
Mainland cities such as Corinth: indeed, the most astonishing 
venture was that of Phocaea, which from Asia Minor colonized 

Monoikos (Monaco),, Nicaea (Nlce)« Antlpolis (Anttbes)f, Massilia 
(Marseille b)„ and even Kmporiae (Ampurias) In Spalno Greek 
merchantmen swept the Black Sea and Mediterranean from end to 
endj» in rivalry with the Phoenicians based on Tyre and Sidon in 
the east,- and on Carthage^ Tunisia.^ and western Sicily in the 
westa Native peoples were on the whole friendly to the small 
Greek city-states on their coasts, for the advantages of trade 
were mutual* In return for minerals and agricultural produce p 
Greek ships brought wine, oil p end manufactured artloleso Of 
the last, good pottery was one of the most considerable items* 
It has been found wherever there were Greek colonies and far 
in their hinterland 




Historically speaking, fine pottery made by the Greeks be- 
tween 1000 and 400 BoC falls into four main greupSo Before 
700 BoC„ wares painted in brown or black monochrome with geo- 
metric decoration were made in many localities and exported 
only within a narrow radius o In the seventh century., pottery - 
and Greek art generally, underwent profound modifications 
owing to trade contacts with Egypt,, Phoenician and the inland 
peoples of Asiao Textiles,, carved ivory., and above all metal 
objects found their way into the cities of Eastern and Main- 
land Greece,, where their stylized ornament of human P animal 
and plant- forms encouraged potters to abandon the old geome 
trical designso This- orientalising phase of the seventh 
century saw also the introduction of polychrome painting and 
the 'black figure' technique,, wherein black painted silhouette 
figures were enriched with detail incised in the yet unfired 
clay 3 Eastern Greece preferred pure brush-painting j on the 
Mainland,, Corinth in particular developed the incised black 
figure o The main factories now supplied a very wide export 
trader The sixth century , until about 530 -, was the flowering 
of the mature black-flfeure technique j Athenian potters now 
captured the foreign markets from Corinth; and the brush- 
painted wares of Eastern Greece fell into decline,, From 
about 530 until 400 BoC. Athenian pottery alone deserves con- 
sideration s most of it being painted in the red-figure 
technique of figures reserved in a black-painted groundo 

(Taken from Lane PPo 18-20* see Bibliography » ) 


The subject matter of Greek Vase painting is rich and varied^ 
presenting a summary of Greek life and thought* Religious 
ritual was closely bound up in everyday life - much more so 
than today o The gods were invoke not only at weddings^, fun 
erals, etc., but also at athletic contests £ . banquets^ and at 
public fountains. 

It is not surprising, therefore^ to find diverse subjects on 
vases of single type - on a Kylix for instance e Dionysos, the 
god of wine, may be represented; or a scene of festivity; or 
some political topic as might be discussed at a banquet* All 
these subjects are appropriate to the use of the vessel- This 
is an important point,, The best Greek vase painters tried to 
relate the subject of their decoration to the use of the par- 
ticular type of potp as well as harmonizing composition and 
style with its forme This is but another instance of the 
Greek artist's desire to express himself rationally and coher 
ently within a unified and disciplined outlook. 

Historically speaking,, the range of subjects varies a good deal, 
In geometric and orientalising wares subjects are usually horses, 
riders, or animals in continuous friezes and in smaller vessels 
fantastic beats - gryphons and harpies - singly or in small 
groups o 



On Black Figured wares Dionysiac revels or scenes from Heroic 
legends* particularly Herakles and Theseus who were favorites 
of the Athenian predominate • 

In contrasts new themes enter in developed Red Figure wares - 
scenes of daily life banquets, revels, etc, and single fig- 
ures of animals,, birds and athletes.. On small cups the Atheni- 
an owl frequently appears e One group of Vases called Panathenaic 
amphorae were awarded as prizes in athletic contests. On one 
side they bear a representation of Athene in whose honor the 
games were held and on the other a scene of the type of contest 

chariot race., discus throwing,, wrestling match, etc for which 
the prize amphora was awarded 


Arthur Lane v Greek Pottery , New York (1947) 

GcMoAo Mentor and Marjorie J, Milne* Shapes and Names of 
Athenian Vases , New York* 1935 

Marie Farnsworth and Harriet Wisely* " Fifth Century Intentional 
Red Glaze 11 ,. American Journal of Archaeology , Vol 62 „ No. 2 
April, 1958, Po 165 etc seq, 

HoDePc Kitto* The Greeks (A Pelican Book),, Harmond-Sworth* 1951. 

Robert Graves* The Greek Myths fl 2 Vols.,* Baltimore* 1955 



^^^ Syracuse, N. Y. 
^^^ Stockton, Calif. 

'Greek vases' . 
573 R 553 Q 



Riefstahl, Rudolf M. 

Toledo Museum of Art 01995